Delilah (דלילהDlila, Standard Hebrew meaning "[One who] weakened or uprooted or impoverished" from the root dal meaning "weak or poor")[1] appears only in the Hebrew bible Book of Judges 16, where she is the "woman in the valley of Sorek" whom Samson loved, and who was his downfall. Her figure, one of several dangerous temptresses in the Hebrew bible, has become emblematic: "Samson loved Delilah, she betrayed him, and, what is worse, she did it for money", Madlyn Kahr begins her study of the Delilah motif in European painting.[2]


Biblical narrative

Delilah was approached by the lords of the Philistines, to discover the secret of Samson's strength, "and we will give thee, every one of us, eleven hundred pieces of silver." Three times she asked Samson for the secret of his strength, and all three times he gave her a false answer. The first time, he told her, "If they bind me with seven green withes that were never dried, then shall I be weak, and be as another man." Then he told her, "If they bind me fast with new ropes that never were occupied, then shall I be weak, and be as another man." The third time, he told her, "If thou weavest the seven locks of my head with the web...."[3] On the fourth occasion, he gave her the true reason: that he did not cut his hair in fulfillment of a vow to God;[4] and Delilah, when Samson was asleep on her knees, called up her man to shave off the seven locks from his head, then betrayed him to his enemies: "The Philistines took him, and put out his eyes, and brought him down to Gaza, and bound him with fetters of brass; and he did grind in the prison house."

The toponym "Sorek" or "soreq" is identified only in connection with the Samson story. In the fourth century AD, Jerome mentions a "Capharsorec" that was near Saraa. Modern Israel has a Soreq Valley and even a Sorek Vineyard (since 1994/5) producing Merlot. Soreq, however, is the grapevine itself in Genesis 49:11, Isaiah 5:2, and Jeremiah 2:21. Samson had been dedicated as a Nazirite, "from the womb to the day of his death"; thus he was forbidden to touch wine or cut his hair.[5]

Petrarch instanced Samson and Delilah in his Trionfi, as a victim in his allegorical depiction of the Triumph of Love. Somewhat inappropriately it would seem to a modern eye, the theme was depicted on more than one fifteenth-century Tuscan painted marriage tray. In the North, the Late Gothic theme of Weibermacht, of the dangerous strength of women, included in the series a conventional scene of a seated Delilah, with Samson asleep in her lap, shearing the "seven locks" from his head: the woodcut by Master E.S. might be a scene of courtly love, Madlyn Kahr has remarked, save for the ominous scissors in Delilah's hand.

A small grisaille panel by Andrea Mantegna[6] in the National Gallery, London places the duo beneath a dead tree wound about with a luxurious vine (the debilitating power of the fruitful woman) and a fountain that overflows and seeps away into the ground, with undertones of unbridled sexual appetite. In Northern Europe the Delilah theme was more prominent among painters like Lucas van Leiden and Maerten van Heemskerck, who made a large woodcut of the subject after Titian. Tintoretto followed Titian in introducing a female accomplice of Delilah's; Rubens added further females, with a suggestion of a brothel, and came back to the subject several times. No major seventeenth-century artist approached the subject more often than Rembrandt.[7]

John Milton personified her as the misguided and foolish but sympathetic temptress, much like his view of Eve, in his 1671 work Samson Agonistes[citation needed]. By the time of Camille Saint-Saëns' Samson et Dalila (1877) Delilah had become the eponym of a "Delilah," a treacherous and cunning femme fatale.

References in film and television

  • Delilah has been portrayed on film and television by, among others, Hedy Lamarr, Rosalba Neri, and Belinda Bauer.
  • The fact that Delilah did not do the actual cutting of Samson's hair is an issue in a scene in Delbert Mann's film, Fitzwilly (1967).
  • In the HBO series Carnivàle, Delilah is the bearded-woman of the sideshow. She is often shown butting heads with the caravan's leader, Samson.
  • A Simpsons episode from the second season was named "Simpson and Delilah."
  • In an episode of the TV series Friends, Ross and Rachel consider naming their daughter Delilah. After the baby is born, however, Rachel exclaims, "Suddenly she sounds like a Biblical whore".
  • Both Samson and Delilah appear in an episode of Pinky and the Brain where the Brain also tries to discover the secret of Samson's strength.
  • In the twelfth episode of the TV series 30 Rock ("Black Tie"), Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) uncharacteristically compares Pete Hornberger's (Scott Adsit) wife to Delilah. Jordan exclaims, "Seems like you've got yourself a Delilah" after hearing Pete embarrassingly impersonate Elmo while on the phone with his children. Jordan continues, "Pete, you've got two types of women in this world: one who gives you strength and one who takes strength from you, like Delilah took strength from Samson... in that movie! My wife gives me strength, makes me feel like a man! That's why she's so special! It's like this, Pete: I love my wife. I love her! We're a team! That's why eight times a week I go to the strip clubs. It gives me energy which I bring back to her. She likes it. It makes me feel strong... like a Samson."
  • The season 2 opening episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles is titled "Samson and Delilah." Delilah is a metaphor referring to Cameron Phillips.
  • An episode of Ni Hao, Kai-Lan has different parts in "Tolee's Promise". Unlike Samson, Tolee doesn't keep his promise.

References in music

  • Samson and Delilah is a grand opera in three acts by Camille Saint-Saëns. It was first performed in 1877.
  • Delilah (Dalila) is a character in Samson, the oratorio by Handel, first performed in 1743. The libretto by Newburgh Hamilton is based on Samson Agonistes by John Milton.
  • In Damn Yankees, Lola sings "I've done much more than that old bore, Delilah" in the number A Little Brains, a Little Talent.
  • Regina Spektor sings of Samson and Delilah in "Samson" in her 2002 album, Songs.
  • The Dresden Dolls has a song about her called "Delilah" on their album, Yes, Virginia.
  • Bruce Springsteen mentions Samson and Delilah in his song "Fire" as can be heard on his album Live/1975-85.
  • In the musical The Producers Max Bialystock mentions Samson and Delilah in the song "Betrayed".
  • The New Radicals song "Someday We'll Know" contains the line, "Someday we'll know why Samson loved Delilah".
  • The song "Sam and Delilah" by George and Ira Gershwin from Girl Crazy.
  • Neil Sedaka wrote a song titled "Run, Samson, Run", where in the end he warns all men "there's a little of Delilah in each and every gal."
  • The song "Hair" on PJ Harvey's album Dry is about the story of Samson and Delilah.
  • Middle of the Road had a hit with "Samson and Delilah" in 1972, written by G. Capuano, M. Capuano and H. Stott. The song tells of the cutting of Samson's hair, including the line "She was undecided but man that hair just had to go".
  • The song "Gouge Away" by the Pixies is a retelling of the story of Samson and Delilah.
  • Delilah is mentioned in the song "Stepping Stone" by G. Love and Special Sauce.
  • The Blasters have a song "Samson and Delilah".
  • Tom Jones has a song "Delilah".
  • The Grateful Dead covered Reverend Gary Davis's song "Samson and Delilah", first playing it in concert in 1976 and keeping it in their live catalogue until 1995.
  • Van Stephenson's 1984 hit song "Modern Day Delilah" tells of betrayal and deceit from a hair dresser who "keeps her scissors razor sharp".
  • In The Phantom of the Opera, Erik (the phantom) calls his love-turned-traitor a "lying Delilah".
  • Thomas Dolby's song "Samson and Delilah", the only commercially available copy being on his 1983 Live Wireless, in a duet with Kevin Armstrong.
  • The Judds mentions Samson and Delilah in the song "Let Me Tell You About Love": "Samson and Delilah had their fling/Till she cut his hair and clipped his wings".
  • KISS released a song titled "Modern Day Delilah" from their 2009 Sonic Boom album.
  • Muse retells the story and character of Delilah in the song "I Belong to You" from the album The Resistance.
  • Leonard Cohen's much covered song "Hallelujah" conflates the story of Samson and Delilah with that of David and Bathsheba: "Your faith was strong, but you needed proof, you saw her bathing on the roof, her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you, she tied you to a kitchen chair, she broke your throne and she cut your hair".
  • Otep's song "T.R.I.C." references Samson and Delilah alongside David and Goliath.
  • Fleet Foxes's song "Sim Sala Bim" refers to Delilah with the line, "Remember when you had me cut your hair? Call me 'Delilah' then, I wouldn't care."
  • Mavado's 2011 song Delilah refers to all women who lie as Delilah and calls love a "lying game for two" because while men are wicked, "Delilah is a girl, she wants to gain the world"
  • The Dixie Chicks song Sin Wagon from their 1999 album Fly states "feel like Delilah looking for Samson"
  • Plain white T's have a song Hey There Delilah
  • The Cramps reference Delilah cutting Sampson's hair in their song "All Women Are Bad"


  1. ^ Also: Dəlila, Tiberian Hebrew Dəlilah; Arabic Dalilah.
  2. ^ The survey of the uses made of Delilah in painting, undertaken by Madlyn Kahr, "Delilah" The Art Bulletin 54.3 (September 1972), pp. 282–299, has provided examples for this article.
  3. ^ See Judges Chapter 16, Verse 16.
  4. ^ See Nazirite.
  5. ^ As a Nazarite, he was also not permitted to come into contact with the dead, but this does not feature in the Samson narrative.
  6. ^ Its themes are examined in an article "Andrea Mantegna’s Samson and Delilah" by Dr. Patrick Hunt.
  7. ^ Madlyn Kahr, "Rembrandt and Delilah' The Art Bulletin 55.2 (June 1973), pp. 240–259.

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